Great literature with all of its fictional heroes and heroines offers insight into the human condition well beyond the tacky revelations of the media. We revisit Barack Obama basking in the adulation of a quarter million Germans as he stands at the foot of a victory column topped by a golden angel. What's wrong with that picture? To ask is to answer: He's talking to the wrong audience. The thousands before him aren't the only voters who matter. He's only the "good enough" man, not the triumphant knight returning from battle. That's why John McCain's mockery of his celebrity drew blood.
For all of his faults, McCain holds no illusions about his audience, or the figure he cuts as a sturdy man with his battle scars. If we were watching the young fighter pilot who went off to war with the looks of a movie star and a twinkle in his eye, we would react in a different way than we do to a 71-year-old man tempered by the vicissitudes of life we see etched in his face. If he's no Prince Hal, he has nevertheless been tested in ways Obama has not.
The McCain management style is loose, sometimes bordering on chaotic. He defends it nonetheless. "I think a certain amount of tension is very healthy," he told The New York Times. "Soldiers are taught to expect the unexpected and accept it, and revise, improvise and fight their way through adversity."
John Edwards is said, in one telling of the story of his public humiliation, to have consulted a guru -- this was in Southern California, after all -- who encouraged him to meet his mistress and her baby at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The guru would soothe because his "knowledge of the past and the future helps people find balance in the present."
The senator might have consulted Shakespeare, instead, perhaps Macbeth's three witches at their cauldron, prophesying "double, double, toil and trouble." Or, since this is August, "Midsummer Night's Dream," where Puck offered the appropriate benediction: "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"